This has to be the most venerable of free-synths. Think of it as Rhino/Absynth-lite. A great 3-osc synth for beginners to learn programing envelopes and matrices. There are great tutorials on the site and the gui ain't all bad (aren't we all a little tired of knobs anyways?). I'll admit that the GUI can be intimidating (I'd like to see the Mixer functions with more differentiation) if you aren't familiar with synthesis but under the hood it has all the big league features.
I really like the sound of Crystal. It's not an overly bold "on-top" sound (as it can sound a tad thin compared to some of the newer commercial VSTis) but rather an "in-the-mix" sound. I'll often layer a few Crystal sounds as backgrounds movements or beats. It has some great exotic type sounds which can compete with the commercial monsters.
There are tons of presets delivered by the huge user group but you'll want to tewak yourself. I especially like it's soundfont sampler and ability to granulate waveforms. Also there is a patch breeder for morphing presets. Damn that's cool!
You can go incredibly deep with this synth so I recommend learning how to program it and then you can be prepared to program the commercial synths, but you might not want to make the switch.
"If you choose to accept this mission you will be asked to program the future sounds of a far away planet. Starfox, prepare for takeoff!!"
Kubik is made for sounds from far-off space. This baby can produce sounds you're just not going to hear elsewhere, period. A treat, I mean a real treat for those of us who love big ass cosmic shifting tones. A pad lovers nirvava!! Kubik does the standard synth sounds amazingly well so the possibilties of using just Kubik for your tracks are vast. The sheer number of timbres possible will make you a convert.
Everyone wants a comparison so I'll say that I find it closer Reaktor synths such as Amiphytron & Metaphysical Function than to the popular monsters here at KVR. In fact, I feel it blows another famous NI synth plain out of the water.
This synth is first one I've found capable of producing the sounds in my dreams. The key is the interaction between the (a)2 morphing 64-wavetable oscillators and (b)step sequencer as each is uniqe yet function in tandem. You might say "only 2 osc's?" but each sweeps thru a number of 64 wave shapes (there are a massive number of built-in waveshapes with the ability to beef them up) to change the sound over time. Brilliant! And the sequencer is unique also morphs the sound with additional time & pitch info to each of the waveshapes. I am still in awe of what a few tweaks to a waveform and the sequencer will produce.
And if the above two features weren't enough there are all the goodies we've come to expect from todays softies; graphable envelopes & LFO's, built-in FX, Mod matrix, multi-mode filters, an arp etc. Kubik even has a built-in GUI skin editor!!
And let's talk about price... an ultra-bargin. I mean forget group buys... Kubik is priced lower than what many of the other synths get to at their best discount price. This is an absolute must-have!! My venerable MetaSynth is shaking in it's boots right about now.
I have come to use Kubik in eXT (with the Trackion skin) and it integrates (both in visuals and functionality) seamlessly. Did I mention how much I love this synth?? :)
Another class-act synth and support as Jon is always here at the Forum.
I was originally hesitant about this synth as I thought it would be too complex to use but the abundance of fanstatic presets have shown me just how much I can do with just minor mods. There are so many presets that if you hear a sound that's 'kinda' what you're looking for just a few tweaks in the waveshaper will probably give you what you crave.
Multi-point envelopes are all the sexy rage these days [see Absynth, Sytrus, Rhino, Tera] but they aren't everything. They can literally be a `drag` to work with in trying to set 25 precise break-points to make a simple arppegio in a patch. I like z3ta+'s use of arp patterns... select between 200 groove patterns to hear rythmic variations on your sound, no envelopes to tweak. It's nice to get an actual piece of `music` from a single note with these arps. It's especially nice playing live if I trigger a MIDI note for the z3ta+ to play a melody. If I hook up my host to Arkaos I can triger different melodies in z3ta+ to match the shifting videos in Arkaos this way.
The mod-matrix is dead-simple to use (of course you have to know how synths work) and allows for the most wild hookups possible (you can even modulte the effects).
So z3ta+ certainly doesn't need any exotic new features (as evidenced by it's already fantastic sound, the synthesis engine is stellar). And the sound is really where it's at... it's very distincitive, not overly bright, it's organic-ish and yet `spacey`. Perhaps this is what synths sound like on zeta-reticuli?? It pulls you in to listen to it, and that's unique as some synths produce a sound so bold they put you off. The sound from z3ta+ is always `there` for me. It has an out-there spacial sound quality that really won me over from the other soft-synths in it's range. Hat's off to a great synth and effects system.
I use FLStudio as my host and z3ta+ automates perfectly in it... that means I can sweep effects, filters, envelopes, etc... outside of the mod matrix for even more incredible pads. I can also record the playing of z3ta+s `ribbon bar` essential for those smooth glissandos.
Another class-act synth and support as Rene is always here at the Forum.
p.s. I need to mention that you can use the FX as a VSTi. The FX section alone is better than what comes with most of the hosts I've used. All options are there in one screen for easy tweaking. The FX plugin doesn't take as much CPU as the synth and is quite reasonable if you compared it to loading 6 other seperate FX plugins to do the same thing.
This is one app any music nerd should have just because of it's sheer funkiness. Really you could doing "everything" with this package (once you pick up a sequencing module from the user forum) but it has it's strong points: 1) Granulators: simply amazing if you're a soundscape person. Probably worth the price alone. 2) Beat Creators: so many ways to funk up sounds into the new mad rhythms of the future. 3) FX: an incredible selection.
The weakest point of Reaktor is, and I know there will be some gasps, it's synths. Unfortunetly they all have a certain tone to them which is just, well, not so pretty. And some of the more interesting ones like Carbon/Kaleidon are so huge to look at onscreen that it's hard to tweak them.
You can find some goodies at the user forum. As in the SynthEdit crowd there are about 15-20 really active contributors. The forum lists 1500 instruments for download but many of those 4-5 upgraded versions of the same instrument, (some won't even work with the latest RS4). Realistically there are about 300 usable instruments in there but that's still pretty amazing. There is also the Amphitryon & Studio from lost-online.com which take Reaktor into a full workstation & sequencer environment for a very nominal cost... making this perhaps the only application you'll ever need. James Walker-Hall built those 2 environments and has contributed several instruments you will find in the RS boxed package as well.
For RS + the 2xtra apps I mention you'll be looking at approx $250+- for the most powerful music making environment currently known. With the ability to combine instruments, effects and live performance tools it is the first stop in your computer music dreams.
GUI Gets medium marks here. They do a great job on making it look futuristic and shiny but all that gray can get depressing plus the designers have a fetish for making buttons and text so small as to make them unreadable and unusable. It's this way on everything from Channel text, to the buttons on the Audio Editor to descriptions on Sytrus.
SOUND Most of the included generators seem best suited for making sound effects. Beep Map, Wave Traveler, Plucked, Slicer, Granulator, Slayer, Speech Synth, etc... are all novel and seem fun on the surface.
Sytrus is the only instrument which could be considered 'pro'. You can do some big synthesis with it. The sound can be a bit "Hot" so watch out in mixes, but it is their best work.
As for effects I think things aren't much better. They are good at munging the sound no doubt and luckily IL has put some new mastering plugs in v6 to help clean up the sound a bit. Alot of the effects are again novel I'm not sure how "pro" they are though?
From all this it can be seen where some musicians think of FLS as a toy, none of the included Generators/FX are very professional. Most are skinned version of MDA's freebies (which are ok, but basic). I find the final mixed sound can often be crap. Some will say it's do to the musician but if you put a pro synth or FX in the song it is easy to hear how it's sound is much cleaer than the included generators. That is the basis of my opening statement.
Now there are some good sounding songs in the 'Cool Stuff' folder but there again most everything comes from a sample or audio, not alot of included generators.
FEATURES One things is the Audio, very nice that you can slice a clip non-destructivle and move those section around. Automation Clips are handy as well. In fact Automation is perhaps the greatest strength of FLS. I admit, having the automation available in the lane below the Piano Roll is nice.
In fact the FLS Piano Roll is so good you might not even want to fool with the Playlist. No, you can easily create a song with just 1 Pattern, that way each Channel/Generator is it's own track. When you have Ghost Channels on you can see other channels in the timeline. You can also edit Automation data easily in the lane below the notes. I assign each Channel a corresponding channel on the mixer and that makes it very easy to automate FX in sync on the timeline. Use your entire screen real estate with just the Piano Roll and you might just find a new favorite way of composing songs. But that said you cannot export a MIDI file from the Piano Roll editor (without going through hoops of "Enabling MIDI export' crap), you can only export a 'Score' file which is only read by FLS.
DOCS The Help file is a 10. But like most manuals it's tech oriented in that it only explains the features... it doesn't tell you how to use them. There are some videos now on the site which are a little more helpful in learning a bit aboubt workflow and the ins-outs of a few of the plugs. That's the music biz in general I think. If the "Bible" would have been a collection of Looptalk topics and sample .FLP's (instead of just the printed 'Help' file) then I would be really impressed (something akin to "Power Tools for Reason 3").
PRESETS Fairly weak if you consider the included generators. The 2 gigs of sample for download at Sample Fusion are basic and boring, nothing exciting to speak of there. The sounds for the included generators are all pretty basic, enough to get a basic song done but not going to give you a unique sound.
SUPPORT Mid marks here. They have a nice forum of their own but if you ask a question the usual response is "because that's the way it is jerk". So why ask questions?
VFM Seems like it should be high with all the included goodies. Really a user needs to buy the XXL package at $350 to get a decent synth, i.e. Sytrus. While the "upgrade for life" feature seems good on the surface the truth is Imagin-Line is about 2-3 years behind the times with releasing what I would call "bleeding-edge tools". Like in Sytrus... there had been FM synths on the market for years before they released it. DirectWave, same thing. The Fruity Slicer is great but hoe many people working on the cutting-edge of sound design would have bought a slicer (Phatmatick or Recycle) years earlier? That's what I'm talking about. So if you buy a tool to do sometihng FLS doesn't you might be a bit miffed to see a native version released for it 2 years down the road.
STABILITY Well, they get a 10 here... best in the biz no doubt, hardly ever a crash.
Good god you have to play it to believe it. Apps like eXT, Reaktor and Live are forging a new road of music (as music is always tied to the technology of a culture, but I'll save the rest for my thesis).
Many people have commented, "When or where do I get the best usage from eXT?". I ran into this conundrum myself. I needed a "higher" level view than the excellent "how-to" documentation has provided.
To get the most from eXT I have found it best to think of it as separate programs; 1) a 'sequencer', 2) a host 'chainer' 3) an 'eXperimental Toolkit', 4) a 'sample creator'
In standalone mode use it as a Sequencer. Open a sequencer, do all your composing work inside the sequencer (import or create MIDI tracks + load wav samples), then route these tracks to your VSTs then to a mixer module and save your mixdown to .wav and it's perfectly great for this. It's mighty powerful workflow, and can give you envelopes and automation for your MIDI and audio tracks. Don't feel like you are mising out on any power features by going this route. In fact the option the eXT VST wrapper gives you of morphing 2 presets from you VST is reason enough alone to use this as your sequencer. And remember, don't touch that arp module!
In chainer mode you will want to load into another host, say Fruityloops or Live. From here you will use the MIDI part, Audio parts, Arpeggiator, Chords and MIDI routing components. The main purpose here is to have your host trigger, via MIDI keys, complex patterns you have set up within eXT, say a MIDI Part which contain just 3 notes which then trigger 3 independant arp patterns (each differentiated by keyrange and velocity). Or you can have in s MIDI part a single note which will then be passed to one of the other modules to then trigger the arp, chord or audio pattern programmed within. Sound complex enough for ya?? Leave that sequencer module alone, it will only add extra unneeded complexity to this application. Remember, this is why you are using a host sequencer.
In Standalone mode we mad scientist types can use it as a 'Toolkit' for sound mangling. While not meant to replace such higher-level tools such as Max/MSP, CPS, PD or Csound, eXT is, with VST plugin kits such as mda's Effect and Utilities Pack's an easy replacement for apps such as Audio Mulch. This where you might want to load up loop manglers, test tone systems or live performance functions. Users in this mode will also find 'SynthEdit' to be a must for creating quick (in under 30 minutes) VST synths, fx and utilities.
As a sample creator you can link up an a MIDI comp -> to your drum-synth of choice and create mad beat and groove samples for use in you main sequencer (even if it's eXT). Hook an Arp (with drum-synth following) and/or Audio (with samples sliced for X-Phrase style triggering) comp after the MIDI part and get ready for massive mind-scrambling polyrythms!!
I received this synth as part of the FL "XXL" package and initally I was very excited to get into all it's presumed juicy goodness. While it is arguably the cleanest sounding FM in the soft-synth market there is very little which inspires me to push this synth with my programming efforts.
It is very difficult to get anything other than the signature "FM" timbre in any of the patches. Just take a listen to the presets, that signature tone is there patch after patch. It does great bells, leads & strings in Vangelis fashion.... makes me wonder about the underlying algorithms. It can make some meaty rhythmic pads, but not really fantastic moving pads.
I'll admit, the multi-point envelopes are the most advanced of any of the commercial synths at this point [cool and novel element for some rythmic beat pads]. They are fun and easy to play with and tweak.
Some complain about the GUI and I'll admit the slider knobs are small. IL always make the slickest interfaces and Sytrus is there. What I'll give props to is the switchable envelope windows... this allows for easy scanning of paramters... no drop-down menus, very ingenious.
What Sytrus needs is: 1) ability to load/morph soundfonts with each oscillator. That way you could put the velocity and keymod to amazing use with the envelopes plus bring in more sonic design, 2) HUGE library of envelopes... how about 200 arp patterns for starters, 3) microtuning to warp the sound even further.
Sytrus seems cobbled from a bunch of code IL has used in other projects and it is really meant to be used best with FLS as there are issues with other hosts when using it as a VSTi (such as not being able to load native .fst files).
With v2 out I have to rethink the above review... there is alot more charatcer to the sounds now, I suppose improved alogrithms somewhere in the app. Sytrus is on it's way up, perhaps joining the regular monsters here at KVR in short order? Anyways, glad the sound quality is up to speed with the intuitive GUI. #1 on my list will never happen, but with more envelopes Sytrus will be a rhythmic beast!!